Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Uncle Vanya

Anton Chekhov, translated by Stephen Mulrine
English Touring Theatre
York Theatre Royal
(2008)

Production photo

Interesting that upon opening a new theatre (the Rose Theatre in Kingston) and after all the achievements that make Sir Peter Hall one of the world's most distinguished directors, that he should choose to direct a play that so achingly illustrates wasted life. Stephen Mulrine's fluid and economical translation brings the show down before ten o'clock at York Theatre Royal and never misses an appropriate comical beat.

What strikes you first is how 'light' Alison Chitty's set appears, contrasting the heavy atmosphere of frustration, heat and boredom that provokes Chekhov's characters to their irascible actions. Nicholas Le Prevost, playing Vanya, pops up and down on his heals as the tension within him mounts. Although this comes across a little incongruous at times with his claims of depression, it works well with the comedy that Hall allows to seep through the performance.

Neil Pearson, as the brooding, drinking doctor Astrov, sweeps through the household and becomes infatuated with the striking Yelena (Michelle Dockery) who in turn is tiring of her elderly scholarly husband, Serebryakov (Ronald Pickup). The excellent Ronald Pickup complains and bickers with his young wife, becoming accusatory in order to vent his dissatisfaction with life in the country, far from his failed academic pursuits. As the characters experience their stagnation, their work dwindles and exacerbates the sense of futility.

The two young women of the play become pivotal in their contrast to each other, one infecting others with her idle nature and the other, Sonya (played by Loo Brealey in the stand out performance of the night), pining for the doctor and yet finding her salvation in work. Brealey's final speech at the end of the night, with Waffles' (David Ganly) hypnotic guitar playing leaves you with a feeling you will never be able to shake off.

What little comfort they find comes from the old nurse Marina (Antonia Pemberton) who stoically and unexpectantly faces her life, without the turmoils of the disappointed. Beside her, Vanya's Mother, Maria Vasilievna (Faith Brook), maintains her manufactured dream of the supposedly brilliant professor who they have all worked so hard to support, ignoring the suffering of her son and granddaughter.

The combination of this flawless cast and Hall's light yet wise touches in direction bring together the perfect notes for this production, leaving an unfailing recognition of the impact that lost time and impossible loves can have on wasted lives.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Rose of Kingston, as did Sheila Connor at Guildford, Peter Lathan in Newcastle and Pete Wood at Malvern

Reviewer: Cecily Boys